Meet Magatha Trysty

by Dawn Casey Perreault

One of the things I love about my involvement with (Rock in Chicago) is all the new and talented bands I get to meet and interview, Chicago has a deep well of undiscovered talent and Magatha Trysty is another example of how cool the musicians in this city really are.  There is really no mystery involved, these cats are cool. Just ask Agatha.

Magatha Trysty is a new band, can you tell us how the group formed?

Chris: When Catherine and I got together, we immediately decided to start a band based on our mutual love of 60’s and 70’s power pop. We both started writing songs for it, pooled what we had, and kinda shaped the sound of the band from there. We knew it was going to need to be a four-piece, so we expanded to a four-piece in late 2009, and that lineup lasted not quite a year, but long enough for us to start gigging out a bit. John and Billy joined us in early 2011, and since then it’s been full speed ahead.

Catherine: When Chris and I met, I felt an immediate need to do two things: marry him (check!) and form a band together. The latter happened first. MT started   out as an acoustic duo, us just throwing bits of songs about, laying down some initial tracks, filling in the gaps with some covers. We realized pretty quickly that we needed more noise – something to drive the whole thing – and our pursuit to form a four-piece began. We became a four-piece in 2009, but happened upon our amazing current lineup in 2011. So, even though we formed around 2007 as a duo, I think the band really re-emerged in its intended form when we met Billy and John.

Tell us some background on the members of the group, any previous experience in other local bands?

Chris: I had a band in college that did well enough for itself, but ultimately fell apart and left a bad taste in my mouth. Beyond that, I didn’t really do much in group settings until Catherine and I formed MT, though I wrote and recorded demos for years without any real direction as to what I was going to do with them beyond playing alone at acoustic things here and there. It was always a hassle, getting everyone on the same page with an idea, and I remember telling my best friend that I needed to find a really good girl singer who liked pop stuff from the 50’s and 60’s, 70’s rock, all that stuff, that I can also trade off lead vocals with. It wasn’t even a month later that I met Catherine. Mysterious ways and all that, I guess.

Catherine: Lots of solo, acoustic stuff… the rock didn’t happen for me until I met these guys.

John: I previously played drums in Tiny Magnets (2011), Ditchweed Diesel (2010-11), Twilight Revival (2006-09) and ED (1995-2005).

Billy: I have a long history in the Chicago punk scene. I previously played guitar with The Vindictives (1991-2004,) keyboards in The Flim Flams (1993-94), drums in Lucky Savage (2004-‘05), bass in The Gornys (2005-09), and bass in the John Doh’s (2009-11).

How does the creative vibe flow for Magatha Trysty? Who writes the songs and what inspires your creative process?

Chris: Generally, I write the music and lyrics, and then do a rough guitar and vocal demo for Catherine. If she likes it, she starts working on harmonies, playing around with synth and piano, and once we’re both on board with it, we give it to the guys and start working it up in rehearsals together. At that point, we start tinkering with the structure and whatnot – sometimes they end up almost identical to my initial demo, and sometimes not. Lyrically, I usually start thinking in terms of images, and then things start coming together before long. I like narratives – Catherine and I were both English and writing majors, we’re nerds like that, so writing about people, kind of an imagistic storytelling style, really appeals to us.

Catherine: Chris is the initial songwriter. He’s sort of brilliant, actually. He writes songs in five minutes on the train or when he’s sitting in traffic. I sit on the train or in traffic, and I’m just swearing and insane. He’s writing stories. I’ve got a couple things in development for the next album, but Chris is the master. He gives me a whole mess of songs – I listen, make arrangement suggestions, write harmonies, write parts for the keys. But the songs really take on their lives when we bring them to Billy and John. They take on new identities at that point.

Is there a song that really defines the sound of the band? 

Chris: They all have some sort of sentimental connotation for me. “Want to Stay” just nails that combo of rock and power-pop, and “Clairvoyant” is probably my favorite song from the album to play live. There’s a new song we just started playing called “Raygun” that I’m really nuts about and synthesizes our sound into something even bigger and better, I think.

Catherine: Well – a favorite song and one that typifies our sound are two different things to me. I love “Another Lovely Party” because of where it started and what it became, I think “Unpack Your Best Days” and “Be Safe” are just great, catchy pop songs – but I think “Brighter” really stands out to me as “us.” It’s a pop song with just the right hint of balls; it’s economical – nothing wasted. It’s got the 3-part harmonies that I’m obsessed with; it’s got “ooohs.” Who doesn’t love a song with “ooohs” in it? Satan, that’s who.

John: Not really … I love them all equally, like my children or my toes!

Billy: I think each and every song has it’s own life and we’ve worked hard enough on them all to have them all stand out each on their own. Our mesh of styles keeps everything new and exciting but well grounded. We tend to focus on the album ideal. I love all the songs on our album and our new songs are building from that.

When did you know you wanted to be a musician and what inspired you?

Chris: I’ve wanted to be a musician for my entire life. I had a very musical household growing up, so from the time I’m able to remember anything, I was hearing the Beatles, Stones, that sort of thing – it’s in my DNA, I have no memories without a classic soundtrack. Then when I was about four years old, I discovered KISS, and that was that. I legitimately believed that they were superheroes or from another planet or something when I was little, so I grew up with glam-rock stars in my eyes for 70s rock, and it just never went away. My dad got me my first guitar when I was 14 (the black-and-silver one I still use live), and I immediately started writing songs, but they were all horrible, and it wasn’t until years later in college that I kinda figured out my way around a hook, and realized how much I enjoyed it and felt like I could do it with some degree of at least personal success. Plus, it just felt good to write a chorus that got stuck in my head. I figured if I liked it, then someone else would, too.

Catherine: Oh, immediately. Probably from the moment I was born, I was inundated by my amazing family with this wonderful combination of opera, classical piano, jazz standards, Patsy Cline, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin. The combination instilled an obsession in me. When I first heard Roy Orbison, though, it was over (ha – no pun intended, but pretty awesome). His music was everything I loved – it was pop, it was orchestral, it was big, it was different. So, I pretty much wanted to be Roy Orbison when I grew up. Scientific limitations being what they are, I’m pretty sure that won’t happen, but I haven’t given up hope.

John: During Beatlemania (early-mid 1960’s), seeing the girls chasing the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night.” I got my first drum set at age 6.

Billy: I didn’t really get into playing with other people in bands till I was in college. I blossomed from there after living kind of a sheltered life. Probably the greatest inspiration was from my Aunt Florence. She had an upright piano at her place – she showed me one song, and I finally found something I was good at! From that point on I knew music was in my future. It was like I caught a bug that to this day I haven’t been able to get rid of and I have no intention of trying.

In a city where so many people are doing the cover band and tribute band thing, what made you want to do original music?

Chris: I personally just never got into the covers thing. I like a lot of cover bands, and covers can be fun, but to me, it’s just a different mindset. Back when I was first in bands, covers were a means to an end when I didn’t have enough original songs, and I’ve never been able to think of it in any other way. Covering other peoples’ music seems like a whole lot of unnecessary work to me when I could just write my own songs and connect with people in a new way, not in a way that a million other people are also doing. I don’t find it creatively satisfying, though it can be a good time to end a solid set on a fun cover – we sometimes do a cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming” that   Catherine sings the hell out of.

Catherine: Covers are fine – but, generally, I find I want to cover a song just because I love it, and I love it as is… and I’m not interested in reinventing something I respect so much. I’m also fascinated by the idea that   all these songs people cover were original songs at one time. I mean, at one point, no one had heard “Brown-Eyed Girl.” I just picture Van Morrison starting to play it, and crowds being like, “Yeah, that’s great, but do you know ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’? We don’t know this brown eyed girl you speak of.” We don’t want to re-invent great stuff – we   want to create it. And then we want Van Morrison to cover it. Just kidding…sort of.

What has been your most memorable show?

Chris: I think the gig at the Abbey in May of 2012 when we shot the video for “Want to Stay” was probably one of my personal favorites – the crowd was nuts, and we played like our lives depended on it – that was a really fun night, and I’m really glad that’s the night we shot the video!

Catherine: Ummm… probably our first show at Martyrs. We had a great crowd, and it was our first time playing there. I’ve got a friend who spins fire (no, seriously, she does) – and, while she didn’t spin actual fire (silly laws), she spun these light things while we played “Meet Me Tonight,” and people were all, “what the hell is that?” and I was all, “It’s MT, yo! We spin fire!” But we don’t. She does. And it was amazing.

John & Billy: The record release party at Martyrs’ (08.11.12) was memorable. Great venue, great performance, great crowd.

What would you like to accomplish as a band?

Chris: I don’t think it’s a bad thing to wish for success; I always find it strange when bands downplay their desire for success because it isn’t ‘cool’ or something. My feeling is that if you’re playing music you love, and you feel like it has the power to connect with people on a massive scale, then why not try to make that happen?

Catherine: Everything. Seriously. I don’t think it’s selling out to say that you want millions of people to hear your music, and I don’t think it’s egotistical… I think it shows that you have pride in what you create. And that’s legitimate.

Persuade the readers to come to your live show; what can they expect?

Chris: We’re not subtle – we want people to have a great time when they come out to see us. You’re always going to see a high-energy show with plenty of hooks that will stick in your head – and hopefully on your stereo afterward! Plus, we’re good dressers. Okay, that’s a lie but I sometimes wear 3-D glasses and that sort of thing. Okay, Catherine and John are actually really good dressers. And Billy. Actually, fashion-wise, they’re all carrying me. But we’ll rock your ass off.

Catherine: Something I love about MT is our loyalty to our sound. We’re not going to dupe you with a record that sounds one way, and a show that sounds like something completely different. Of course, every live set has its own nuances, its own energy – but we’re us, always. We have a love for bombast and an affinity for all things catchy. You’ll dance, you’ll sing along, you’ll leave happy. Plus, we’re sort of weird, and that’s always fun.

John: True mix of both POWER (hard-hitting, fist-pumping passion) and POP (accessible melodies they’ll hum for a week after the show) Variety – no two songs sound the same (ADD/ADHD fans rejoice!) … hooks galore!!! Earnest passion for the music without an ounce of pretension or irony – we’re not concerned with being “cool” or even “anti-cool”

Billy: Expect to hear 4 people who enjoy what they do and do so because they love the act of playing together. The Best part of this band is how different sounding the songs are and how much dynamic there is between the songs. Every song has it’s own feel and emotion and there’s a great attention to building the passion and excitement in the music.

If you could open for any national act of your choice who would it be and why?

Chris: I’d probably have to say Cheap Trick, if only because they’re one of only a couple of bands that I looked to very early on as proof that it could be done. I love those guys, have always loved those guys, and getting to share a stage with them would be a high honor. And U2. Always U2. They’re the gold standard.

Catherine: Well, The New Pornographers. Clearly. My love for them is creepy and obsessive, but real. And then there’s U2. Because even if you don’t love U2 (which I do), you secretly want to tour with U2. Because they’re U2. Plus, if you toured with them, you’d probably be able to convince Bono to let you try on his glasses. And you know you want to try on Bono’s glasses.

John: Wilco, Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Replacements (reunion show), R.E.M. (reunion show), shall I go on? (Hey, a boy can dream, right?)

Billy: Definitely Wilco, Radiohead, Foo Fighters Rolling Stones, Decemberists to name a few.

How did you come up with the name. sounds very siimilar to Agatha Christy, so wondering if theres a connection?

Chris: There is, sort of. Catherine and I adopted a cat that had belonged to an author of mystery novels. We were kicking band names around, this was very early on when we were still figuring things out, and we had named the cat Agatha after Agatha Christie, in honor of both her former owner and our love of writers. (Incidentally, Agatha the cat has a cameo in the “Want to Stay” video.) We considered just naming the band after an author, but figured that might get confusing, so we started tinkering with sound alike names and things like that, and ended up with the band name. (We do these goofy things in the privacy of our home, among many other goofy things.) The idea of a ‘tryst’ seemed appropriate since our lyrics are pretty narrative and often deal with relationships, the side effects of love, that sort of   thing. We’ve had people tell us it’s either the best or worst band name they’ve ever heard, but hey, they said the same thing about Led Zeppelin. Works for me.

Catherine: Oh, the band name. It’s funny – I never realized we actually had a weird band name. In response to this question, I just started Googling band names, and I’m pretty sure that “Poop Yer Pants” is a much more interesting band name than Magatha Trysty. But, the story: in short, it’s named after our cat, Agatha. In long (?), it’s a reference to our love of literature and a narrative song structure. It’s a reference to the relationships that occur and reoccur throughout our songs, and to the characters who play roles in them. Also, it gets in your head and sort of stays there… and, let’s face it: that’s what we’re trying to do.

Catch Magatha Trysty Live At Martyr’s January 10, 2013 

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